Army of the Dead marketing lessons

With an audience of 72M in four weeks Army Of The Dead is a Netflix megahit and a Zack Snyder signature classic.

I have, in the past, used Batman to discuss branding, Superman to explore social media and even The Walking Dead to talk about business.

Army Of The Dead (trailer below) is the start of a projected franchise (you should really check out the link for a deeper understanding of the director’s mastery of marketing) with prequels and anime projects in the works. It is in the choices the director made however that we can learn about marketing. But first, the trailer I promised:

How Marketing Plays A Role Here

Despite it being a megahit, the $70-90 million it took to make it is a sizeable chunk of lucre which means it only makes sense if it helps bring in several fresh hits at a lower advertising and marketing cost. A film franchise, after all, brings in a ready-made, devoted audience eager to part with their cash and willing to become amplifiers of every single marketing message.

Netflix may be the byword for all aspects of home-entertainment but without context to keep the faithful it knows that its future is as vulnerable as any other business. This is why building it looks to build as many franchise movie universes as it can. And with Army of The Dead it has hit the jackpot. Here’s how the director did it (and what you should be thinking about when you market your products and services):

  • The Army Of The Dead Respects Your Investment. You already pay a Netflix subscription so to watch the movie you only really invest time. But time is a much higher commodity than money because unlike dollars you won’t get any more of it, no matter how hard you work. So, although the movie ends up in a cliffhanger of sorts and gives you the ending you’d expect in a horror movie it is still entirely self-contained. There is no part of the ending that needs a follow-up. There is no plot-hole used that needs you to watch what’s coming next to understand it. This makes the movie a complete product from beginning to end. It adds to its enjoyment and it increases your sense of satisfaction when you watch it.
  • The Army of The Dead Lives In The Present. The moment you talk-up a franchise the first film feels like a pilot. Things happen that don’t make any sense because they are needed to happen so the follow-up films can be explained or things happen which can only be explained in the follow-up films. This is like releasing a product in Beta. You buy into the promise that future updates will make it perfect. This a yes-maybe-no possibility. Snyder, smartly avoids all that. The movie has a sprinkling of hints and Easter Eggs but it works perfectly well on its own, without any of them. This again is what makes it a perfect product that lives precisely up to the promise of its trailer (i.e. marketing hype matches exactly what the product does).
  • The Army Of The Dead Respects Its Audience. Snyder has a ready-made following from his first zombie movie, the iconic Dawn Of The Dead itself a remake of Romero’s 1978 cult classic. He could have used the good will he’s garnered to put in all sorts of future-pointing stuff that would bloat his movie. Instead he does the exact opposite. He focuses relentlessly on the action and the storyline, hinting at everything he needs on the fly and trusting his audience is smart enough to get it. This is the classic “know your audience” canon of marketing with the added twist of since you know it you need to respect its intelligence.
  • The Army Of The Dead Creates Engagement. Go to Reddit or any horror buff movie forum and you will see a dozen fleshed-out ideas being floated about robot-zombies, time-loops. Time-travelling zombies and an alien zombie apocalypse. Snyder knows his audience well enough to know that A. They think deeply about all that stuff and B. They pick up on clues he leaves behind in the film even when the camera doesn’t waste any time to focus on them. This makes the universe he builds feel complete with unplumbed depths that may lead to many other plotlines. To create this level of engagement you need to do more than just “know your audience”. You need to also share your audience’s passion for what you are giving them. You need to be empathetic and focused on delivering exactly what you’d like to have had yourself if you were standing on the receiving end.

These four elements have turned this summer’s early horror movie into a summer hit that keeps on giving. It wasn’t just cinematic skill that did that. It was a director who understands how to meet the marketing hype and give his audience something that he can feel proud to have directed and they can feel happy to have watched.

Now, how many marketing campaigns and products truly manage to do that?